Can McElhinney Make Magic?

Not much has gone right for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. The bad news continued Wednesday. It’s about the last thing the team needed at this point in the season.

The Blue Jackets announced that star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky would miss three weeks due to a lower-body injury. Bobrovsky left the game Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings with 5:35 remaining in the third period, with the Blue Jackets leading 2-1 in a game dominated by the Kings in just about every way.

In came backup Curtis McElhinney, cold off the bench, in a very difficult spot. He was quickly greeted by a Jeff Carter shot off the goal post. The Kings continued peppering the Blue Jackets net. Finally with 1:27 left in regulation, Carter buried the tying goal to the dismay of every Blue Jacket fan at Nationwide Arena. The goal was not McElhinney’s fault. Carter was wide open at the side of the net. The game did get to overtime, so if there is a small silver lining, it’s that the Blue Jackets got a point they probably didn’t deserve. It actually helped them win the season series off the Kings, three points to two.

The story after this game was the health of Bobrovsky. At first glance, we weren’t sure what was happening. The athletic trainer came out to check on him. After a minute or two, they came off the ice. The initial thought was that Bobrovsky had an issue with his neck or chest. He took a high shot in the previous game against the Panthers. Maybe it aggravated something.

Instead, it was announced as a lower-body injury for Bobrovsky. Although the exact diagnosis wasn’t announced, most seem to think it’s a groin injury. Recall last season that Bobrovsky had a groin injury. If that is the diagnosis, it has to give you some pause for concern. Will this be a recurring theme throughout his career?

Life Must Go On

Life goes on however. The Blue Jackets have to look forward. As a result of the injury, the Blue Jackets called up Joonas Korpisalo from the Lake Erie Monsters to serve as the backup to McElhinney. Korpisalo was the Blue Jackets third-round pick in 2012. He has yet to play an NHL game.

This is where the questions begin. How will the Blue Jackets respond to not having their best player? The Blue Jackets are now the only team in the NHL to not get a win from their backup goaltender. Bobrovsky owns all 11 Blue Jackets wins.

Even with Bobrovsky playing lights out prior to the injury, the Blue Jackets still enter Thursday with the fewest points in the NHL. Their next 10 games aren’t easy. They have six road games, a pair of games against Dallas, and a stretch of four games in six nights upcoming. If the Blue Jackets want to stay in the race, the team must respond. This starts with the goaltending.

Curtis McElhinney Blue Jackets
The play of Curtis McElhinney will define how the rest of the season will go. (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Management signed McElhinney to a new two-year deal in the off-season believing that he could come in and play in the event something happened to Bobrvosky. That moment is here. We will see if this signing was the right decision. Given there are 10 games in the next 22 days, chances are we will see Korpisalo make his debut at some point. He played great in the AHL. When called upon, will he respond?

The Blue Jackets can’t continue playing games like they did Tuesday against the Kings. They must play with fire and urgency. They are going to have to play solid defense in Bobrovsky’s absence. Their season now depends on it. The Blue Jackets need a minimum of 5-5 in these next 10 games to stay afloat. Anything worse than that jeopardizes the season.

Can McElhinney make magic happen? If so, it could springboard the team to a solid second half. Otherwise, the questions about this season will only escalate. Curtis, the stage is yours. Let’s see what you got.